Since God is all-powerful, He can do anything. But can an all-powerful God live forever, or will He someday die?
God cannot die. Existence—life—is inherent in God’s nature, which is unchanging. Jesus died a bodily death but continues to exist eternally as a spirit.
Let me explain.
As physical creatures in the natural world, we understand and experience death primarily in physical terms. When our loved ones die, we observe that their bodies cease to function, because the non-physical part of the person (the spirit) has separated from the body.
We also observe physical death in our pets. However, having an eternal spirit is an aspect of being made in God’s image, so when our pets (or wild animals) die, they simply cease to exist.
It is necessary for us to consider the distinction between eternal creatures and spiritless creatures. When contemplating the question, “Can God die?” we have to think beyond physical death since God is a spirit being who exists outside of the physical universe.
Let’s see if the dictionary definitions of “die” and “death” can be applied to God:
- Die: To cease to live
- Death: The destruction or permanent end of something
So our definitions of “die” and “death” are strict negatives, as they are understood only in relation to what they aren’t. Just as darkness is the absence of light and cold is the absence of heat, death is the absence of life.
God is Life
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.John 1:1-4
As Christians, we know that God created all living things and that he breathed life into them. John opens his gospel by pointing out that God created life because God is life. Existence is inherent in God’s unchanging nature.
Several verses in both the Old and New Testaments link God’s eternal nature with His self-existent nature:
- Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – Psalm 90:2
- “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” – Revelation 1:8
- The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. – Acts 17:24
- God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” – Exodus 3:14
The name that God uses to identify Himself to Moses speaks to existence being solely in God’s purview. Similarly, in Acts 17, Paul continues his testimony of God’s self-inherent existence (outside of time and space) by adding that God gives life and breath—and existence—to everything else.
If it seems that we’re overstating this point, it is because the question “Can God die?” is usually framed as a challenge to God’s omnipotence. The logic—flawed as it is—suggests that if God cannot die, then He cannot do all things, and therefore cannot be all-powerful.
And this is why we stress that dying is not an act of doing something, but rather it is a cessation of activity. If we frame the question as a positive, “Can God live without dying?” the answer is obviously “yes,” and obviously demonstrates God’s complete and eternal power.
Where Did Death Come From?
So if God created everything and gave life to all things that live, why does anything die at all?
The Bible tells us that death is a consequence of sin:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 6:23
Sin, which is often understood by its presenting symptoms (actions and behaviors that dishonor God) is a state of separation from God.
Of course, God is still active in His creation, which is why life continues to abound. But our sin causes us to eventually separate from life. This is the curse of sin that rests on all of creation (Genesis 3:14-19, Romans 8:20-22), which will eventually cease to exist.
Humanity is unique in that we were created in God’s image, which includes an eternal spirit. So as God’s image-bearers, we survive beyond physical death and are subject to the second death—eternal separation from God in hell—if we are not first reconciled to Him.
This brings us to a common follow-up question when discussing whether or not God can die.
Why Did Jesus Die?
Scripture usually answers this question from a salvific, theological perspective. But in the context of the present writing, we might better understand the question as “If Jesus is God and God cannot die; how could Jesus die?”
The theological answer, of course, is that Jesus died as a substitutionary atonement to pay the penalty for our sins, and in doing so, he overcame the power of death:
- Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned – Romans 5:12
- For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! – Romans 5:17
- So that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. – Romans 5:21
This salvation works precisely because Jesus is God, co-equal with the Father. He took on a body so that he could pay the price of physical death. But since his nature is eternal, death only affected his body.
Therefore, in dying, Jesus did not cease to exist, and he remains his immutable, undying, unchanging self (Hebrews 13:8)
Debunking a False Teaching
Though not common in Christianity, some false doctrines have promoted the Islamic suggestion that Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, but that he simply appeared to die (swoon theory).
While Christians might find this to be a way to alleviate the logical hang-up of God experiencing death, it fails both from a theological perspective (as our salvation is unquestionably brought about through Jesus’ death) and from a narrative perspective. Scripture plainly testifies that Jesus actually died on the cross:
- When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. – John 19:30
- Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. – Luke 23:46
Such theories ought to be dismissed by Christians as unbiblical notions that do nothing to enable our faith.
Rather, it is Jesus’ resurrection and eternal nature, along with his absolute power and authority over death, which secure our hope. God cannot die, and those of us who know Him will also live with Him in eternity.
For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.1 Thessalonians 4:14